How You Can Be a Better Mentor (Or at Least Try How I Do It)
By Chris Duprey
So, you’re not seeing the results you want from your team.
You’re baby-stepping. You’re doing the work -- but your team isn’t developing, moving the ball forward, or doing great work and moving it into the done column. You and your team aren’t having fun anymore...
Your team is missing revenue goals. Team velocity is stagnant at best. For some reason, your team can’t break through and deliver the outcomes necessary to fulfill their purpose.
The truth is -- It may not be them.
They may not know what is causing their issues.
As a leader in your organization, what are you doing to help them achieve what you need them to achieve?
Are you having trouble connecting with your team? Are your one-on-ones not getting the results they need?
Mentoring is tough. I know because I have struggled in the past to get the outcomes from my team that I needed.
With that said, over the last year or so, I’ve developed some techniques to help develop my team so they can achieve the outcomes we as an organization are striving for as well as their personal goals.
1. “Care personally, challenge directly"
Kim Scott’s book, Radical Candor, is one of the most useful books on leadership, management, and mentorship I’ve ever read.
While we don’t have a required reading list (yet) at IMPACT, this is probably the most recommended book for our leaders. I found Kim’s idea of caring personally and challenging directly to be one I had been trying to follow.
On a side note, Kim is going to be a guest on MarketHer on 2/28/18 (no big deal!)
Ensuring you build a true relationship, based on trust, with your team or with the folks you mentor is the first and most critical step.
If they don’t believe that you care about them personally, when you challenge directly or are critical, there is a great chance it won’t be met in a way that helps them develop.
So, how does this apply to mentorship and how do you do this?
Simply put, you have to know more about your mentee than simply the work they do for you. This goes beyond knowing their spouse’s name or the names of their kids. This is truly knowing what makes them tick. What are their future goals and aspirations?
Once you’ve built the foundation, you can get to work as their mentor (or boss), by challenging them directly and continuing to grow and develop your relationship.
With your mentee's understanding that you truly care for them, you can stop sugarcoating the things you used to.
You can be direct without being harsh. You can be direct and help them work through whatever issues they are having.
This is challenging, but if you’ve built the foundation of caring for them personally, this type of directness goes a long way.
2. Don’t try to solve problems
“Be a multiplier.”
This is a phrase that has stuck with me since I read Liz Wiseman’s book Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter.
In essence, this book shows the reader the distinction between leaders who grow and develop their teams to achieve amazing results and those who don’t.
Being a multiplier means giving your team space to learn and grow so they can create amazing things and find the answers or develop the solutions. So, if you’re going to be a multiplier, you can’t be an answer or solution machine...
I know, this may sound counterintuitive. Aren’t mentors supposed to help their mentee in any way possible?
This was definitely the approach I used to take -- You’ve got a problem, here’s a solution.
This is not being a mentor. Being a mentor means helping your mentee solve problems for themselves.
When we solve problems for people (or attempt to), we are making them dependant on us. We’re in essence saying, “Bring me your problems and I will solve them,” rather than teaching them to solve their own problems.
This isn’t easy. Most of us want to be helpful, we want to have answers when we are asked questions.
I was having a one-on-one with a member of my team, Tom, and we were talking about one of his challenges.
I could hear my inner voices coming up with a solution. It was so clear in my head what needed to be done. Then another voice jumped in - “DO NOT TRY TO SOLVE THIS!!!”
I sat back in my chair, looked at Tom and said, “let’s dig in.”
I went to the whiteboard in the room and started asking a ton of questions.
As Tom was answering the questions, I’d start writing certain phrases or words on the board. Then I’d ask more questions and Tom would give more answers.
All of a sudden, Tom had the answer he was looking for.
He was able to find the solution for his challenge himself; I simply helped guide him to it.
With this approach, it was Tom’s idea, his way ahead, not mine.
3. Ask questions until you get the real challenge/problem
There are two questions I ask to begin my one-on-ones.
- What’s on your mind?
- What’s the real challenge here, for you?
These may be the best questions I’ve learned to ask, thanks to Michael Bungay Stanier’s book The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever.
By asking them you draw out the first thing on the mind of your teammate and then ask them to dig deeper.
Their initial answer may be a symptom, but continue asking: what’s the real challenge? Why? What else?
The more your inquire about the issue, the more they will break it down and identify the real issue, so they can get to work fixing it. Again - you aren’t solving for them, you are helping guide them to success.
Ok, ok. What’s next?
1. Start doing this stuff. I share these ideas because they are working for me. Our team isn’t perfect, but we work on being better every day.
2. Read these books.(This is not a polite suggestion.)
- Radical Candor: Be a KickAss Boss Without Losing Your Humanity
- Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter
- The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever
3. Be ok that there are going to be more lessons to learn in the future. Keep a growth mindset and get after it.
These three ideas are things I am using as I lead our team. They work for me and I’m sure they can work for you, but you need to put in the work. You need to understand that mentorship is part of the leadership skill set and the only way your team is going to developing and improve is if you do as well.